2014 saw me increase my CD collection by 60 albums (down seven from 2013 and not including ten compilation albums that came free with magazines) and 7 EPs (up four from 2013). The latter figure emphasises how much I have come to appreciate how important the shorter format is to newer, smaller bands – even though, as I’ve often said, I’m not a huge fan of the format, I am becoming more willing to support local bands by buying their EPs if I think the music is good enough and is something I will listen to at least semi-regularly. Of the seven that I did buy, all at gigs, I was particularly impressed by Mulholland’s Ghosts & Shadows, Unfinished Drawings’ Ciara Star and, best of the bunch Fallen Angel by Vesper Walk. All three are well worth checking out and will, hopefully, lead to full album releases.
Of the sixty albums, only eighteen were 2014 releases (I’ll come back to them later) and, as with gigs, my personal circumstances in the first half of the year shaped my buying habits to a degree, with the vast majority of my purchases taking place in the second half of the year. As usual, December itself saw a big jump in numbers as friends and family gave me thirteen CDs as birthday and Christmas presents. HMV did well out of me this year, with twenty-seven of my purchases coming from their York and Leeds stores, as I either picked up older stuff on offer or newer stuff on regular pay-day shopping trips. Twelve of the albums were bought at gigs, the rest came from a variety of sources, including one pledge campaign and one review copy, but, strangely, none were internet purchases.
Yes and Ozzy Osbourne came top in the numbers bought, with seven and six respectively. Rush and Winter in Eden came in with three each, the latter making up their entire album output, and the only other multiple purchases came from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Nightwish and Pink Floyd. Local bands and artistes were well represented, with albums from Cloud Atlas, Morpheus Rising, Mostly Autumn, The Rodeo Falls, These And The Other Guy, Dan Webster and When Empires Fall.
As is probably to be expected, Prog Rock made up the largest proportion of the additions, but there were also representatives of Acoustic Rock, Country Rock, Metal, Psychedelic, Folk, Blues and Pop.
Favourites from the non-2014 releases are: Emma Steven’s Enchanted, a light, lovely and at times emotional slice of folk/pop that has a feel of Summer about it; Nightwish’s Imaginaerum, – bombastic and bonkers and yet never quite over the top; The Way It Is, from Bruce Hornsby and The Range, finally making it back into my collection after being stolen over ten years ago. Biggest disappointment was probably KT Tunstall’s Invisible Empire//Crescent Moon which, compared to her first two albums, just felt and sounded “beige”
2014 Releases and top ten
The eighteen 2014 releases are all covered in the montage above. Twelve, perhaps thirteen, could said to be, in one form or another, Prog. One is New Wave of British Heavy Metal, one a mix of Brit-pop and Merseybeat, one a mix of Jazz, Blues, Pop and Rock, one folk/pop/rock and one, well, one is Coldplay.
There’s not a bad album among them but the biggest disappointment was Hawklords’ third album Censored. It continued a decline from the high point of their debut and I will be thinking twice before buying any further releases from them.
So, what of my top ten? As usual, this comes with an explanation of how I chose it. I don’t analyse lyrics, I don’t notice production values (unless they are very bad) and I’m not bothered whether a band’s latest release shows progression from their last or whether it is “a step in the right direction” (in fact, I find it slightly egotistical that an outsider can decide what is a band’s “right direction”…) For me, it’s about what impact the albums had on me. To come up with my top ten, I look at the list and choose the ten I would play there and then, at that moment. If I looked again in a few weeks, perhaps after playing an album that didn’t make the top ten this time, my choices might change but, hey, I have to make a decision at some time, so it might as well be now.
First off a few words about some of the albums that haven’t made the cut. The latest offering from Yes isn’t a bad album by any means, it’s just that it feels very “safe” given some of the band’s extraordinary previous output. Panic Room’s Incarnate, however, just hasn’t grabbed me like any of their previous albums. While most fans seem to think they get better with every release, I’ve not been as impressed. It could, however, easily be this album that, given another few listens, would sneak into the top ten in future. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with Morpheus Rising’s sophomore release, Eximus Humanus, it just didn’t grab me as much as their debut did. Which leaves Pink Floyd’s swan-song, The Endless River… I’m not sure what I was expecting but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t what we got. It’s nice and, again, I suspect it will grow on me with each listen, but it’s not, at this point in time, great.
I don’t generally rank my top ten, I find it too hard to pick favourites. This year, though, I have a clear winner and a nearly-equally clear second place. Apart from them, the rest of the countdown is in alphabetical order, with varying degrees of commentary and explanation.
Amplifier – Mystoria. While others are rating this below the band’s last two albums, especially The Octopus (which I rate highly), I find it more accessible, arguably more mainstream and certainly less dense.
Anathema – Distant Satellites. It doesn’t improve on Weather Systems. In fact, in some places it is nowhere near as good as that album, but Anathema’s latest slice of atmospheric Prog release was never likely to be outside this year’s top ten.
Asia – Gravitas. Arguably here purely for nostalgia reasons, but I like Asia and love the fact that they are still going strong despite losing Steve Howe’s guitar-playing. Any band that can use the word “nyctophobia” in their lyrics (beating “trebuchet” from a previous release) deserves a place in any top ten.
Cloud Atlas – Beyond The Vale. I’ll be honest, this one slipped in and out of the ten a few times, eventually staying in after I listened to it again today and realised just how good it is. The trouble is, once I have listened to it, nothing really sticks in my mind. That just makes it feel new every time, though, and gives me another excuse to play it.
Coldplay – Ghost Stories. This one possibly shouldn’t even be here. I actually bought it in 2015, but close enough to the end of 2014 that I decided to include it. It’s a slightly difficult album to listen to, knowing the circumstances around it and, at times, it comes across as a bit to saccharin. Coldplay, though, are one of the few mainstream bands that I still follow and, while it’s not one of their best, I really like this album.
The Rodeo Falls – Better Broken. Inevitably, following the local music scene, I end up buying a few albums that aren’t going to have a wide distribution. There’s generally one or two (or more) each year that are really good and deserve to ne heard by more people. I’ll admit, this one kind of snuck up on me. I’ve said elsewhere, The Rodeo Falls mix two genres that I don’t generally like – Meryseybeat and Brit-pop – into something that has that has grabbed me. This album crackles with energy both musically and vocally. When I bought it, I played it three times in a row and I can’t remember the last time I did that.
Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope. I can’t remember too much about this one except that, so far, it isn’t as good as The Whirlwind. And that’s probably why it’s made this list. I know I like it and I want to hear it again.
Winter In Eden – Court Of Conscience. Not precisely what I was expecting. More subtle and lighter than the idea of a British version of Nightwish or Within Temptation that I had in my head just from what I had heard about the band, rather than hearing their music. I really enjoyed seeing this band live towards the end of the year, even if it was a curtailed and amended set. I’m not sure yet whether I think this is the best of their three albums but I like it enough to keep playing it.
At number two… Mostly Autumn – Dressed In Voices. I’ve said in the past that Mostly Autumn, one of my favourite bands, write great tracks but don’t put out great albums. There’s usually something slightly “off”. This release, though, their first full concept album, has surpassed any of the albums I have bought new since coming across the band just before Glass Shadows and is, quite possibly, better than any of the rest of their back catalogue except The Last Bright Light. I knew this was a special album from the first time I heard it, even though that was in the car, with accompanying engine and road noise. I’m just sorry the band didn’t get a chance to gig in their home town this year.
…and my favourite album of 2014… The Pineapple Thief – Magnolia. There’s nothing bland about this album and it hit me between the eyes the first time I played it. I had a feeling then that it was going to end up being my favourite of the year and I was right. In my opinion, nothing else came close and I’m surprised it hasn’t featured higher in other end of year polls. Easily the best of the albums I own by this band.